The middle and higher income classes would have to bear the brunt of an energy transformation, if it happens
Dr. Leena Srivastava, VC, TERI School of Advanced Studies shares with EPC World on how the infrastructure sector is critically important for us for all the known reasons but also because the choices we make today, and how we implement our infrastructure expansion programmes, has a huge implication on our ability to follow a low carbon development pathway and to meet the sustainable development goals defined in Agenda 2030.
While the power sector has increased supply, yet the sector remains financially stressed. How do we deal with this scenario?
Well, an empowered committee of the Government of India has gone into these issues in detail and come up with a set of recommendations based on a detailed analysis of the stressed assets. However, the mandate of the Committee was limited to addressing the challenge of identified power plants. An overall analysis of the power situation reveals a plant load factor that is hovering around 55% with energy deficits tending towards zero. There is clearly a major issue with the lack of demand growth in the country – either on account of a slow down or large consumers moving away to alternate/own sources of generation. In either case, it is probably a good time to carefully evaluate, on a forward-looking basis, which assets should be retired – even if providing cheap power at present!
According to BP Energy Outlook 2019, coal’s share in India’s primary energy consumption will decline from 56% in 2017 to 48% in 2040. But that is still nearly half of the total energy mix and way ahead of any other source of energy. How can the reliance on thermal energy be reduced?
India needs to take a conscious decision to immediately stop all additions to coal fired power plants. This was a recommendation we had given way back in 2009 to the then Government. In the last ten years, it has definitely become easier to commit to this goal as: the cost of renewable energy has come down drastically, storage technology options are making exponential progress, the IT infrastructure in the country has improved, industry is eager to step up investments and entrepreneurial appetite is high – provided we are able to put in place a stable and encouraging policy environment. It is also imperative that we stop immediately any life-extension activities and phase out those generation assets that are more expensive to run (inclusive of environmental costs) than the alternatives available today. Decentralised renewable energy solutions too need to be promoted aggressively. Technologies available today enable accurate forecasting of renewable power generation, which together with storage can be game changers; more so with the evolution of interconnected continental grids.
Can the country afford to totally give up its reliance on fossil energy?
The question should actually be – can the country afford NOT to give up its reliance on fossil energy! Not only is the full cost of producing and consuming fossil energy very high but the costs of climate vulnerability and impacts will probably be significantly higher. How India demonstrates its resolve to contribute to the protection of planet earth, would go a long way in cajoling other countries to follow suit. Today, India is ranked as one of the most climate vulnerable countries of the world – due to its high population levels, high incidence of poverty and rapidly degrading resource base. I think it would be safe to say that the middle and higher income classes would have to bear the brunt of an energy transformation, if it happens. But if it does not happen then we would be breaking the back of the poor in India.
Where do you see the country standing in its goal for achieving the renewable energy target of 175 GW by 2022?
India seems to be on target with respect to its renewable energy goals except for rooftop solar sector. However, will we be able to derive the full benefit of this ambitious renewable energy capacity in this time period or does our regulatory and market environment need a greater push? As of now, it seems we are struggling to operationalise the contracts and capacities that have been put in place. The solar rooftop sector has great potential in terms of organized sector employment creation and income generation. So, more focus needs to be given in order to make rooftop solar more profitable for the stakeholder and accessible to masses while keeping a check on quality. The equally important objective of high levels of ambition in this sector is to evolve our policy, regulatory, market and consumer environment so as to prepare for exponentially higher levels of renewable energy - and we are progressing well on this.
What further steps can be taken to ensure clean and affordable energy to the citizens of the country?
I believe that the Government and industry both have to support academic institutions to deliver the expertise they require to respond to the exponential growth we should see in this sector. Industry too needs to take a long term perspective and raise themselves above the opportunistic engagement we are now witnessing. Appropriate energy pricing signals inclusive of environmental externalities may develop the market for cleaner power. Beyond this, apart from utility scale and large scale renewable energy capacities, little attention has been given to grow the decentralised renewable energy market either in terms of the innovation environment or in terms of market development.
Do you think wind or solar energy can replace coal as a supplier of base-load power in the near future?
Renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, should not be seen as replacements for base load power options like coal and nuclear. Instead they should be seen as components of an entirely new energy system which is being evolved – one which has variability on both the supply side as well as the demand side but, importantly, ensures a safer planet for the next generations to live on! This system would necessarily be driven by IT based applications and storage technologies as also supported by blockchain technologyIn other words, the shape and structure of the new ‘electricity grid’ will possibly not be recognisable in the next 10-15 years.
@EPC World Media